Our first Managing Partners and CEO forum of 2021 touched on three key areas:
80% of those attending expected a small 5% rise in fees in the current year and the remainder were looking at the same kind of turnover as 2020. In terms of confidence in economic outlook this has remained about the same as it was pre-Christmas, with no major changes following Brexit. As a result, post pandemic, the survey shows over half of the group expecting 50% of staff to be working remotely after the pandemic eases with some, even more. Although the majority of firms are expecting all employees, partners and staff to be working remotely at some stage over the week.
Top three things to achieve in 2021
Growth is Key to the 2021 agenda and many were discussing mergers that had taken place and were going to bed in during 2021 or integration and acquisition with other firms that is on the cards and expected in the current year. There will be firms who want to leave the business and retire and others who can’t afford to. We focused on integration and the general feeling was that virtual communication and messaging has been effective. The advantage is that everybody has been able to see and hear the same message from senior leaders, instead of relying on the cascade (and the inconsistencies this can cause).
Most of the attendees also had very positive experiences with communication – most felt things were a lot more joined up (where different locations have previously had a negative effect on communication, consistency and inclusion). There was also a consensus that communication across the firm from the top was more frequent.
Medium term succession planning was a priority for one firm, and thinking about the organisational reporting lines. They also wanted to spend some time on their brand and developing their selling proposition messaging. A priority for one firm was to ensure that the ‘one firm resourcing model’ continues when more people return to offices. Engagements and projects were traditionally staffed by ‘offices’ but now clients are being managed across the whole business. This resource sharing was also important, as this has worked particularly well during lockdown for many firms and as the pandemic eases and firms go back to working in offices, it’s important to ensure that collaborative working continues to be adopted across offices and departments.
As we do return to the office the creation of revised working premises with ‘collaboration spaces’ is a focus, along with increased communication, that has been a prerequisite during lockdown times.
Experience of lockdown 3.0
A couple of people present had noticed in themselves that despite being here before with home-schooling and a strict lockdown, it somehow seems more exhausting this time round.
Clearly the weather has much to do with it but it may also be the length of time that lockdowns remain in place as the pandemic has brought continued pressure on everybody. However, some were thriving by making the most of this remote environment. Pulse surveys and other staff surveys are key to ensuring that nothing is missed and it’s a feature of most firms that some managers are better than others at ensuring the productivity, mental health and well-being of the staff teams.
For some, the concern is that once staff are through the crazy January period, there could be a real dip and a struggle for some. It was also noted that amongst the younger staff most are desperate to get back into the office.
Consideration of leave and holiday entitlement is on the agenda for most firms, as everyone is grappling with people who are not taking their holiday entitlement because they do not want to “waste it“ sitting at home, because they can’t go away. This stores up a critical problem for later in the year as lockdown is eased, when people may all choose to go on holiday at the same time and leave a firm low on resources. Many firms are discussing how to manage this by either:
All of which needs to be balanced with a statutory obligation to your employees as the government has released new guidance on this matter.
What is preventing your firm from optimal performance?
We did a brief survey to see what might be of interest for our next session and 50% of respondents stated that skills gaps were crucial issue, followed by financial health of the client base, Covid uncertainty and margin erosion. In terms of what’s uppermost on everybody’s mind over half the group felt people and our role as employer was key followed by operational performance.
Digging deeper into the skills gap, some firms are looking at helping their people have better ‘client attention’. Empowering teams to build client relationships, not see the client as one engagement in a year, thinking about building client background knowledge, having wider conversations and helping the client see more value in the relationship. This is part ‘training and development’ and part changing culture / metrics / strategy / structure to embed these behaviours as the normal.
Check out an excellent article on HBR that identifies the challenge of leading as the business is exhausted.
A good article here just released by Steven Kotler last week on Peak Performance.